National letter of intent signing day is likened to Christmas for football coaches.
It's not really an accurate analogy, since Santa Claus doesn't make people work for 18 months to earn their presents. The presents don't sometimes decide they want to be somewhere else, leaving only a lump of coal in a coach's stocking.
Like kids who can't wait to tear into their presents, football coaches wake up early to share in the excitement with recruits around the country who pledge their services to a particular program.
This past Wednesday staff members from The Blade spent the morning inside the football offices at the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University to document this day. In the end, new UT coach Matt Campbell signed 27 players to form a class that Rivals.com and Scout.com rank the second best in the Mid-American Conference. BGSU coach Dave Clawson secured 20 recruits, creating a class that despite lacking quantity — by his design — he believes is strong.
Here's how it happened:
University of Toledo timeline
6:30 a.m.: Coaches file into the Larimer Athletic Complex to begin their work day.
7:03: Arguably the most decorated player in the class, Parade All-American receiver Danny Larkins, is the first to fax in his letter of intent. Coaches who had predicted someone else to be the first to send are mildly disappointed.
7:07: Director of high school relations Chris Hauser announces that Whitmer’s Storm Norton’s letter of intent, among others, has arrived. Director of football operations Adam Salon shouts from his nearby office, “He was my pick to come in first.”
7:12: Graduate assistant Daniel Ifft spots a letter of intent from tight end Alex Zmolik, to which assistant coach Tom Manning, who recruited Zmolik, pronounces, “Man, I’m on fire.”
7:22: Marcus Davis, who committed to UT on Tuesday upon receiving a scholarship offer earlier that day, is in the books. Hauser informs head coach Matt Campbell that Miami (Ohio) also extended Davis an offer Tuesday. Campbell replies, “So did Northern [Illinois].”
7:23: Ten of 27 verbal commitments have faxed in their letter of intent. This includes junior college punter Brad Dunavant, who submitted his paperwork in December and is already enrolled at the school.
7:26: Recruits are required to fax three separate documents. Linebacker Jaylen Coleman accidentally sent three copies of the same one. Oops.
7:29: Campbell is on the phone, ribbing Detroit quarterback Brian Blackburn that “No way you’re going to be my quarterback. You said it would be here at 7:01. It’s 7:30.”
7:31: Campbell is on the phone again, this time with the mother of defensive lineman Phillip Martin, whom he calls his “good luck charm.” The story behind the moniker dates back to December when Campbell was driving to Chicago for an in-home visit with Martin only to be summoned back to Toledo by Rockets athletic director Mike O’Brien who had phoned Campbell to offer him the head coaching position.
7:36: Strength and conditioning coach Rudy Wade enters the room, noting that for him, this day is like any other. His influence won’t be felt until the recruits are on campus.
7:40: Salon and Hauser are sitting in the office they share together. Lining one wall is DVDs — probably 500 of them — containing highlight footage of 2012 prospects. Another 100 or so clips made their way to Hauser’s email account. Sitting on a table in the room is energy food — coffee and donuts.
7:50: Blackburn’s fax finally arrives. Sixteen down, 11 to go.
7:58: The Rockets received a commitment Tuesday from junior college cornerback Cameron Cole, whose LOI has yet to make its way to Larimer. Quarterbacks coach Scott Isphording isn’t exactly worried but offers this analogy. “Cole is like taking a knee at the end of the game.” In other words, the win is assumed, but not guaranteed.
8:14: Twenty-four down. Three to go. Two whose LOI hasn’t arrived — Cole and Allen Covington — won’t send until the completion of afternoon signing day news conferences at their schools. No one has heard from linebacker Chase Murdock.
8:16: Chuck Pratt, the program’s long-time team mentor, arrives and asks Hauser if there has been any surprises. Hauser says no and responds, “I don’t like talking about it until there’s none.”
8:50: Murdock isn’t answering his phone, which is making associate head coach Louis Ayeni uneasy. Another school has been pursuing the Barrington, Ill., product.
8:54: Ayeni’s cell phone rings. It’s not Murdock. He’s getting worried.
8:58: Campbell enters Ayeni’s office. He just got off the phone with Murdock’s father. His son will be sending soon. Ayeni smacks his desk out of relief. When Cole’s and Covington’s faxes arrive, the class will be completed.
9:00: Coaches head to the nearby team room to participate in the annual Senior Draft Day. Players will be divided into eight teams that will try to outdo each other in the weight room and in the classroom in the offseason. A coach will be appointed to each group.
Afternoon: Recruiting is a never-ending cycle. The Rockets hosted a recruiting day for juniors recently, and coaches will send a letter to all of those 2013 prospects who visited.
3 p.m.: Campbell formally announces the class at a news conference at Savage Arena. A signing day event for fans begins at 4 p.m.
— Ryan Autullo
Bowling Green State University timeline
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6:30 a.m.: It’s dark and quiet outside the Sebo Center on the edge of the Bowling Green State University campus. It’s bright and busy inside the building, though, as football coaches shuffle into a meeting. They are armed with two essentials: notes about this year’s recruiting class, and cups filled with coffee.
6:46: The meeting breaks, and the coaches start making calls. The purpose? Reminding recruits and their coaches that the letter of intent can’t be signed before 7 a.m., or it’s invalid.
6:59: It’s almost time for action, and Dave Meyer, BG’s sports information director for football, checks the fax machine. It doesn’t matter that several coaches checked the machine moments before Meyer did. It must be ready for a busy morning.
7:01: The fax suddenly springs to life, and coaches descend on the machine like moths drawn to flame. It spews out the paperwork for Logan Dietz, an offensive lineman from Pittsburgh. Smiles break out among all the coaches — no Grinch will keep Christmas from coming to BG this year.
7:14: The hum of the fax machine has been steady, and already the Falcons have signed five recruits. The coaches handle the letters with the same routine: First, they check to make sure everything is signed fully. Second, they call the recruit and his coach and share the excitement. “Send me pictures of signing day,” assistant coach Nick Monroe says to one recruit. “Make sure you go on our Web site — I’m going to talk about you, and coach [Dave] Clawson will talk about you this afternoon,” assistant Mike Elko tells another.
7:18: One coach of a recruit is having trouble sending his form. “He keeps trying to send a fax to my cell phone,” Elko says. He’s smiling though, because the high school coach is working hard to send in paperwork for a player the Falcons really like.
7:21: The early morning meeting proves valuable, as coaches confirm that potential signee Mikhail Dubose will sign with Western Michigan. The BG staff already has a plan, and Clawson is on the phone with placekicker Anthony Farinella of suburban Chicago. Farinella has shown the ability to split the uprights on kickoffs, and his addition will allow the Falcons competition in the kicking game.
7:26: One of the signees didn’t put the time he signed on his form. The coaches call, and he resigns and resends the form. Rules are rules, after all.
7:38: BG already has eight signees, and six are offensive linemen. “You’ve gotta love offensive linemen — they are smart and reliable,” says assistant coach Bill Durkin. Durkin coaches the offensive line, of course.
7:41: Panic rises as the fax machine flashes a message saying it is “busy.” After a moment of fiddling, the message is gone. And then it really does become busy, ringing with another signee.
7:44: Monroe, a high-energy coach who makes coffee nervous, gives a fist-pump when the paperwork from defensive tackle Mike Minns arrives. Minns is a ready-made run stuffer at 300 pounds who might play right away. He’s a good “get” by the Falcons out of Florida, Monroe’s recruiting area.
8:01: Outside the Sebo Center the sun has risen on a cloudless day. Inside the Sebo Center, the Falcons already have 10 signees.
8:08: While waiting for more signees to arrive, Monroe scrolls through one of the recruiting Web sites and finds a pleasant surprise: One of the Falcons’ recruits, Josh Pettus, is wearing a BG hat in a video that explains why he chose the Falcons over a number of late suitors, including Missouri and Houston. Pettus talks about wanting to stay close to his home in Melvindale, Mich., and how Bowling Green felt like family. Monroe can barely contain his excitement.
8:31: The coaching staff’s work is nearly done. BG expected 14 letters today, and 13 already are in hand. The next step is for each coach to record a video talking about the new recruits.
8:44: When asked how he thinks this class will be ranked, Clawson has a quick answer. “If you consider that [University of Michigan transfer] Je’Ron Stokes, [All-MAC punter] Brian Schmiedebusch, and Andre Givens [a highly regarded high school running back in 2010] are part of this class of scholarships, this will be a better class than the ratings show,” he said. “And we already have four players from this class on campus, getting stronger and faster.” The quartet is junior college transfers Michael Allen and David Kekuewa along with high schooler Coy Brown, and Scott Davis, a transfer from a military academy.
11:15: Farinella has returned his letter, and the class is complete. Clawson scans the list, and nods with a satisfied smile. “These are good players, but they also are good kids who we know are going to qualify. We’ve made ourselves better,” he said.
— John Wagner